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Juice Maker Settles With More Families of Young E. coli Victims

Liability Week

June 1, 1998

Odwalla Inc., maker of some Half Moon Bay fruit juice linked to a 1996 outbreak of E. coli among young children, has agreed to a settlement with families of five of the victims who became ill but survived.

Although terms of the settlement were confidential, The New York Times reported that the company agreed to pay between $ 12 million and $ 15 million.

Plaintiffs' attorney William Marler said the amounts of the settlements "will be substantial enough to fully compensate the children and their families for what they went through and may encounter in the future."

"We're very pleased to be able to fully compensate these children and to move forward with the families and with the lawyers to address the bigger issues of food safety awareness," said Chris Gallagher, a company official. Some of the money will be placed in trust for the victims, five children who became seriously ill after drinking the tainted apple juice in Colorado and Washington state. The youngsters have since resumed normal lives but will continue to be monitored for years for potential long-term consequences.

The company now has settled 17 lawsuits, with three pending.

Odwalla formerly marketed its unpasteurized juices as nutritious health foods. Then the outbreak of E. coli was traced to a batch of apple juice bottled at an Odwalla processing plant.

Seventy persons became ill and a 16-month old Colorado girl died.

E. coli poisoning is particularly dangerous to the very young, the elderly and those whose immune systems have been suppressed. Four of the five children in the current lawsuit suffered the most acute phase, hemolytic uremic syndrome, in which the kidneys shut down.

Plaintiffs were the families of Michael Beverly, 4, Katherine Wright, 4, and Brooke Hiatt of Seattle; Brian Dimock, 7, of Washington, DC, and Amanda Berman, 5, of Chicago.

The families reached the settlement in personal talks with Odwalla Chairman Greg Steltenpohl and chief executive officer Stephen Williamson, and Odwalla's insurance firm.

Family members said they were impressed by the sincerity of the Odwalla officials' regret. The company now pasteurizes its juice.

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